On Cookies, Campfires and Politics

It’s that time of year again.

I have already consumed my first box of Thin Mints, the first of many, I am sure. Between Girl Scout Cookie Season (yes, it deserves that capitalization. I am pretty sure it is an official holiday.) and the news about the Boy Scouts of America deciding– then not deciding — what to do about gay Scouts and leaders I am guessing all of us think about Scouts at least once a day these days.

On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times . . .

In every discussion about scouting, someone inevitably ask why we even care. Scouting is a throw back to another time, pointless in these times of urban living and the internet and progressive, multi-faith values. Even my pink-haired, Gold Award Lifetime Girl Scout told me yesterday a fellow adult volunteer “commutes in from the 1950s every day.”

. . . I will do my best to be
honest and fair,
friendly and helpful . . .

Friendly and helpful. Not traits you associate with changing the world. Unless you look at the legislative branch of the United States government.

When my daughter was getting her Gold Award (the Girl Scout equivalent of the Eagle Award) we went to the obligatory rehearsal for the ceremony. At the end, we were told another group was going to use the room after us and we were asked to at least put our own folding chair back on the rack. That way, clean up would be easier for the organizers. There were at least two hundred chairs and about 30 of us in the room.

I nudged my daughter and said “Put a couple extra away,” as parents tend to do.

“Of course,” she answered in a tone that said “Obviously,” as teens tend to do.

I  grabbed my chair and another and put them away. When I turned to get more I saw a banquet room almost empty of chairs. Teenaged girls carried 4 or 5 chairs while moving double time to the racks. I had forgotten I was in a room of Scouts.

   A Scout is:
Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful,
Friendly, Courteous, Kind . . .

There are people who go through life wondering what’s in it for them, always wanting to get the most out any situation. And there there are those whose instinct is to help, to step in, to leave it better than they found it. When you encounter them you just know. It’s apparent in everything they do. And there is a good chance they were a Scout.

 . . . respect myself and others,
respect authority,
use resources wisely . . .

Respect. Courteous. Trustworthy. The words seem a bit old-fashioned. Simple even. Almost Zen-like in their simplicity. Imagine what your life would be like if everyone you encountered had recited these words once a week for 6 years.

 . . . courageous and strong, and
responsible for what I say and do . . .

Those words and the values they represent exist outside the world of sexuality or politics or religion. J. Bryan Lowden has a wonderful essay on Slate that will resonate with anyone who has ever wrapped hamburger, carrots and potatoes in foil and cooked them in the coals of a dying fire or worn a name tag made from a disk of tree branch and yarn. What about Scouting is worth revering, he asks?

Based on the oath, the answer is easy: care for others and care of the self. These simple twin ideas are, of course, worthy of the utmost respect, and more to the point, salutary to all young men regardless of their sexual orientation.

Scouts don’t ask where the little old lady worships before helping her across the road. They don’t ask who sat in the chair before putting it away. They don’t negotiate a good seat at the fire before getting it going. They don’t debate who deserves respect; they know the answer is everyone they meet.

The world seems full of endless debates and micro-analysis of philosophies, motives and assumptions. This debate can be an exciting and challenging process leading us all to a better place or it can be a rancorous, angry process that drains us all of any hope and enthusiasm.  The best way to have these important discussions is to be courteous and kind, respectful, responsible for what we say and do, and to leave every person we encounter just a little better than we found them.

This year, when as you dunk your Thin Mints in your glass of cold milk, take a moment to make it a secular communion. Take in more than the minty goodness. Take in the values of the Scouts you are supporting.

 . . . make the world a better place, and
be a sister to every Girl Scout.

Note: Except for the quote from Slate, italicized quotes are excerpted from the Girl Scout Promise and Law and the Boy Scout Oath and Law

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